Posted on 17/Apr/2015
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The EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy is calling net neutrality a “Taliban-like issue,” Google has started sending out sarcastic GIFs as on-the-record-statements, and the European parliament is caught in a Mexican standoff about data protection.

Communication is a delicate art. Both communicating about technology, and using technology to communicate require a touch of finesse. Two months since I left Brussels, I’ve been busy getting used to life in the UK and writing about politics; realizing it was time to get back up to speed on tech and EU, I wandered back over to that section of the internet. Well, all I can say is:

Gunther Oettinger is calling net neutrality a “Taliban-like issue,” Google has started sending out sarcastic GIFs as on-the-record-statements, and the parliament are going all Mexican standoff about data protection. It was as if I’d walked outside a quiet country pub to take a call on my mobile (LOL I know, so old-fashioned) and walked back in to find a fist-fight in full flow in the bar.

While the technology portfolio has always been a good one for raising eyebrows — who can forget Neelie Kroes’ “Chanel no. 5 and nothing else” moment, Mr. Oettinger has taken things to another level. Within his portfolio, as well as the Taliban comments — video below — he managed to give conflicting messages about geoblocking.

Ending geoblocking — so that users can watch content that’s been paid for in one country across the single market — is a very popular idea, especially with border-hopping Brussels bubblers. While Mr. Oettinger’s Tweets show enthusiasm, he said in an interview with FAZ that “we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” and should look at the impact on the film industry first.

That’s within his portfolio. The Commissioner hasn’t held back with his views on areas well outside it, either. He’s also told a German radio station Greece are like “elephants in a China shop.” Well, it takes one to know one. Let’s not forget one of his first moves on becoming commissioner was to take a pop at France’s efforts to sort out its deficit — not really an obviously digital issue.

He’s trampled on Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager’s territory with his views on the Google competition case. Also, it’s old but brilliant: remember that time he said there was no civilization West of Paris? 

The next thing I thought I’d check up on is the Data Protection legislation, which was meant to be done by summer. The “one-stop shop” idea was a nice, easy-to-communicate policy: you have a query about online privacy, you got to the data protection authority in your country, they talk to the one in the country where the company is based, it gets fixed. Then I read this piece (by the excellent BrusselsGeek) and suddenly it wasn’t so clear. Lead supervisory who with the what now?!?

As well as the actual reworking of the data protection laws — meant to be completed this year — the European Parliament is flexing its muscles on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), saying there must be sufficient safeguards for  Europe’s data protection laws. The parliament has to give its agreement to TTIP as a whole, and the civil liberties committee said it would have doubts about doing that without enough protection for EU citizens’ data. So it’ll be interesting to see how that one works out too…

So much drama! Perhaps the problem is simply words. They can be complicated, ambiguous and do as much to obfuscate as enlighten. We live in the age of Vine, Meerkat and Periscope, where live pictures of anything can be beamed into the ether at will. So Google have fixed this: instead of a boring old on-the-record statement (snooze) made using words (whatever, Grandpa) they decided to respond to a Wall Street Journal story about the Federal Trade Commission with a selection of Buzzfeed-tastic GIFs. 

I guess that’s how it is now: two months away from covering technology in Brussels and I’m all like


photo credits: Chris Murphy
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